San Simeon, along California’s rugged Big Sur coastal stretch, is a beach destination with a difference. While you can certainly swim or surf in its sheltered cove or fish from its pier, most people drop by to see its preserved “castle” and meet its fascinating elephant seals.
San Simeon, in San Luis Obispo County, sits between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Both cities are about 230 miles (370 kilometers) away along Highway One.
Once part of a hugeranchorun by Mexican owners, the land was bought by the rich miner George Hearst in 1865. He soon expanded his ranch and built a wharf with a warehouse on the coast.
Visit the family’s impressive estate, Hearst Castle, on former “Camp Hill.” When his home was finished, Hearst renamed it “the Enchanted Hill” and with its mansions and views it isn’t hard to see why. Take a tour of the century-old complex and admire the Roman and Neptune pools in the gardens. Don’t miss the impressive Gothic Study in the Casa Grande, the main mansion.
Afterwards, throw a line in from the 850-foot (260-meter) San Simeon Pier or take a dip in the Pacific Ocean. The waters of Simeon Cove lend themselves to kayaking and surfing. Body boards can be rented locally, too. The day-use area of the William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach has picnic tables and barbecues, so bring your own supplies for a seaside lunch. Afterwards, stretch your legs by roaming the beach or by following the nearby trail up to the pine trees for lofty ocean views.
Just to the north of the park is the also free-to-access Piedras Blancas Rookery where there are northern elephant seals. Watch these odd-looking creatures doze, scratch, play and swim. While in the area, also tour the 19th-century Piedras Blancas Light Station.
Hotels line the highway on either side in San Simeon. In Cambria, just to the south, you can find many more accommodations as well as restaurants, shops and family attractions. This area may not have five-star hotels and services, but it’s a charming, laid-back region to visit, with some of the best beaches of the Big Sur.